The Montreal Canadiens were faced with a team that always plays them tough in the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night. While the Habs were able to earn a point in the standings, the likely reaction to this contest for many fans is that they once again deserved better than the 2-1 overtime loss they suffered. Charlie Lindgren was once again the voice of reassurance for the first half of the contest, allowing only one goal, and giving the team the time to wake up and get back in the game. At the other end of the ice, Sergei Bobrovsky showed why he is the reigning Vezina winner as he performed a series of saves on Montreal forwards throughout the third period. If it sometimes feels that the Canadiens’ forwards often make the opposition goaltenders look good; I assure you that it wasn’t the case in this one as Bobrovsky’s saves were of the acrobatic variety. This was a very entertaining game despite the low scoring result.
The first shift of the game featured excellent pace as both teams were able to get chances off the rush. Unfortunately for Montreal, with a little more than two minutes expired, Brandon Davidson was guilty of a failed zone exit which ended up on the stick of an unwatched Josh Anderson who made no mistake in beating an abandoned Lindgren. Lindgren would make up the early goal with a spectacular glove save on Nick Foligno a few moments later.
The first threatening shift for the Habs came shortly after as the surprise 12th forward, Victor Mete, got creative and handed Jacob de la Rose a golden opportunity that was not completed. Aside from this one push from Mete, the first half of the period was mostly played in the Montreal zone after the initial goal. The Habs started to get back in the game but on the second shift in the Columbus zone, Jordie Benn was caught for tripping near the blueline. The Blue Jackets’ power play was rather inoffensive other than the final 20 seconds, where Lindgren was able to keep Montreal in the game. The Habs would then be handed their first man advantage of the evening as Zach Werenski was called for holding while being far away from the play, but they were unable to make it count. The score remained 1-0 after one period of uninspired hockey for both teams.
The second period started rather strangely as Boone Jenner was rocked with a Tomas Plekanec hip-check on the first shift. Columbus picked up where they left off at the end of the first as they controlled the better portion of the opening five minutes of play in the period. Another solid forecheck by the fourth line, this time by Byron Froese, created a Mete scoring chance. This chance appeared to turn the tide as Montreal started winning some races and battles in creating some offensive zone playing time. Near the midway point of the period, Andrew Shaw took an undisciplined penalty in the offensive zone, but it was Montreal that would get the best two chances during the Columbus power play, the best coming on a Paul Byron breakaway that was stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky had to continue to shine as the Habs really had a dominant few shifts that followed the Shaw penalty, notably Alex Galchenyuk who appeared to have a magnet on his stick during this period. For what it’s worth, Galchenyuk was also very present all night long around Bobrovsky’s blue paint, showing a little Gallagher to his game; a promising sign if you ask me. With three minutes to play in the period, Montreal got back on the man advantage but could not capitalize. It was an excellent second half of the period for the Habs who needed to get out in the third and continue this play if they wanted to come back in the game.
The third period started rather tentatively for both squads as Charles Hudon picked off a pass and got a scoring chance, but the rest of the play was safe zone time along the boards for both squads. With approximately five minutes expired, Shaw broke out on a 2-on-1 with de la Rose because Max Pacioretty was in the dressing room getting some attention. Shaw made the perfect pass, but likely wished his usual linemate was present for this occasion. Bobrovsky made a highlight reel save that will be seen many times over until the end of the season, but Pacioretty gets that shot off quicker than de la Rose did there. Pacioretty returned for his next shift and Bobrovsky would be forced to make two more excellent saves on the captain.
After Seth Jones hit the post on Lindgren, Galchenyuk controlled a zone exit and found Shea Weber joining the rush. Weber put a puck low on net that allowed Byron to put home a rebound and tie the game with under eight minutes to play. The last eight minutes included some dominant shifts for both teams. One particular play had Karl Alzner getting completely overpowered until Phillip Danault saved both Alzner and a sprawling Lindgren to keep the game even. After what ended up being an entertaining first 60 minutes, this game would require overtime. The overtime was short lived as Werenski was left uncovered off the bench just over a minute in and made no mistake on his opportunity to end the game.
Mete Up Front?
Claude Julien’s strategy to play with seven defenders is understandable given the circumstances of having Artturi Lehkonen not available for this contest. (Lehkonen is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.) Where I’m slightly more confused is with the usage of Victor Mete in the 12th forward slot. Mete has been used less and less as the games move forward, but moving him to the forward position could be confusing for the young 19-year-old. Furthermore, Mete has still played as well as Brandon Davidson, and way better than Joe Morrow, so why does he, a player in full development, take on this assignment? Mete actually performed quite well in this role, but this should not be a regular occurrence. I’d rather see him returned to junior and play 30 minutes per game at the World Juniors than 10 minutes per game as a forward in Montreal.
With Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk getting comfortable with each other on the ice, Julien is starting to have some very interesting line combinations up front. The Pacioretty-Danault-Shaw line seems like it won’t be dissolved anytime soon as it continued to create havoc in the Columbus zone for most of the night. As mentioned, the top unit is also coming together nicely. Interesting here that there did not seem to be a huge dropoff from having Byron on the line as opposed to Lehkonen. I mention this simply because it might be worth a shot to see if moving Gallagher to that line might have the same effect. Then it would be possible to reunite the Hudon-Plekanec-Lehkonen line that was so effective for the team in the first portion of the calendar. This way, Byron can return to the fourth line and replace anyone who is injured or simply having an off night.
Struggling Jeff Petry
It’s puzzling to watch Petry play right now. Some guys are inconsistent from game to game, but Petry is inconsistent from shift to shift. He flies up the ice, creates a couple of scoring chances and looks like he’s worth every penny on one shift, then returns to commit two giveaways and play incredibly soft defensively the next. Unless David Schlemko exceeds my expectations upon his insertion into this lineup, the coaching staff must find a way to get this player going. With none of the other defenders stepping up to fill this void, there is no one else but Petry to get going and play these second pairing minutes.
The Real Galchenyuk Stands Up
Many fans (including myself) have defended Galchenyuk throughout the trials of the past 10 months. Tonight, Galchenyuk was the best Montreal forward. He was engaged, making his way to the hard-nosed areas on the ice, and controlling the puck and skating with it as opposed to stopping his feet and trying to stick-handle through everything. He was rewarded for it too as a solid defensive zone play he made resulted in his beautiful cross-ice saucer pass to Weber which ended in the Columbus net. Watching him play tonight, I couldn’t help but think that the fans who protected him all this time were wrong. Where has this player been? This is the player that scored 57 points in 60 games over two seasons. This is the player that Claude Julien knew he had under his tutelage and hoped he could bring out. Here’s hoping we see this Galchenyuk far more often now that’s he’s remembered how to play this way.